Audi A8 review
The flagship Audi A8 saloon takes the fight to the Mercedes S-Class and Range Rover in the luxury car class
The Audi A8 luxury saloon is available with a broad range of powertrains, from petrol-electric hybrid to the storming S8 and W12 models. Whichever you go for, all are smooth and refined, as befits a top-of-the-range luxury saloon, delivering strong performance with the added security of Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system.
Some buyers in this market will be drawn to the unostentatious styling; others may be put off, and think the A8 too closely resembles lesser models in the Audi range. Either way, most will agree that the car is handsome.
It’s also a technological tour de force, with a range of standard and optional kit that makes it hard to beat for either safety or luxury. The car is extremely well built, too, although other premium rivals can offer a more bespoke feel – but it’s the overly firm ride that remains the A8’s only real Achilles’ heel.
The Audi A8 has been around since 1994, but it’s only in its third generation more than 20 years since the original’s launch. That shows the longevity of this big, flagship luxury saloon.
In this class, the A8 has to face up to some stiff competition, including the incredible Mercedes S-Class and the opulent Range Rover, so to improve its chances, Audi fits all models (apart from the Hybrid) with its trademark quattro four-wheel-drive system, as well as an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
There are five engines to choose from: two diesels, two petrols and a petrol-electric drivetrain in the Hybrid model. Buyers also have their pick of six trim levels, as well as extended-wheelbase versions of many.
Kicking off the line-up is the SE model, which features 18-inch wheels, adaptive air-suspension and LED headlights. It also gets electrically adjustable heated seats, sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB and cruise control.
Next up is the SE Executive. This benefits from a reversing camera on top of the standard parking sensors, as well as a powered bootlid with hands-free opening, soft-close doors and more adjustable seats.
SE and SE Executive models are also available in long-wheelbase L guise; this adds an extra 130mm of legroom in the back, plus electric sun blinds for the rear doors and screen, four-zone climate control and a sunroof.
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Sport spec brings sports seats, 19-inch alloys, a Bose surround-sound stereo and LED headlights on top, although this isn’t offered in limousine form. Conversely, the A8 Hybrid is only available in extended-wheelbase guise, and gets three-zone climate control and some other hybrid-specific equipment.
The S8 is the sportiest model in the range, and comes with a powerful V8 turbo engine. It also gets sports air-suspension, variable dynamic steering, 20-inch wheels and an upgraded brake system, on top of special detailing inside and out. At the top of the A8 tree sits the W12 model – this benefits from the biggest engine in the line-up, but is a trim level in its own right, like the S8, and has the most features.
Engines, performance and drive
Thanks to its quattro four-wheel-drive system, the A8 has a reputation for being one of the sharpest luxury cars to drive, offering plenty of grip and taut body control. Stability at speed is strong and it’s involving on a twisty back road. The trade-off for this, though, is a firmer low-speed ride.
Tyre noise is also more of an issue in the Audi than in the ultra-refined Mercedes S-Class. Audi’s Drive Select system is fitted as standard, but even if you tweak these settings, the big A8 doesn’t seem to settle. It never quite manages to match the balance between comfort and handling achieved by the S-Class.
The 3.0-litre V6 TDI delivers 258bhp and takes the car from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, but claims fuel economy of 49.6mpg. There’s a more powerful 4.2-litre TDI V8 on top of this, with 380bhp and a massive 850Nm of torque. This promises 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds, which is faster than some sports cars.
The Hybrid is front-wheel drive and combines a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor to serve up a total of 241bhp; the rest of the A8 range has quattro four-wheel drive, which delivers staggering traction and grip in corners.
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If drivers want the ultimate in luxury performance, the S8 offers 513bhp from its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, and will demolish the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.1 seconds. The S8 Plus ups the ante with 596bhp, a 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds and a 189mph maximum speed. Agility gets a boost, too, thanks to the sophisticated Sport quattro rear differential, which channels power to individual rear wheels.
The top-spec A8 W12 uses the same 6.3-litre engine as the Bentley Continental GT, detuned here to produce 493bhp. It’s extremely smooth, but not cheap to buy or run.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The A8 features stop/start and regenerative braking in order to keep running costs in check – 40mpg is a realistic possibility from the 3.0 TDI if you’re careful.
Audi’s official economy figure is as high as 49.6mpg, with CO2 emissions quoted at 149g/km. That means the Benefit in Kind tax rate is a relatively low 27 per cent, but the A8 still can’t compete with the newer Mercedes S-Class in this respect – especially if you opt for 19-inch alloys, which hike fuel consumption by as much as 2.5mpg, and increase emissions enough to bump the saloon into the next tax bracket.
Company car drivers looking to slash their costs will be drawn to the A8 Hybrid, which attracts even lower Benefit in Kind taxation than the entry-level diesel as it emits just 147g/km of CO2. The Hybrid also claims 44.8mpg fuel economy.
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The 4.2 TDI V8 promises official economy of 39.2mpg, while CO2 emissions stand at 189g/km, which mean a Benefit in Kind tax rate of 35 per cent. So it’s a more expensive proposition all-round.
Not surprisingly, the top-of-the-range S8 Plus and A8 W12 are the two least efficient models in the line-up, with Audi quoting 28.2mpg and 231g/km for the S8 Plus and 25.7mpg and 254g/km for the W12. If you’re tempted to use even a fraction of the performance potential of these cars, you won’t get close to those fuel economy figures, and if you have to ask about the company car tax rates you’re probably not on a high enough pay grade… it’s 37 per cent.
The Audi A8 may cost less to insure than the Mercedes S-Class, but it’s still not exactly cheap. Buyers are looking at insurance group 43 for the entry-level 3.0 TDI, while the 4.2-litre diesel sits in group 47.
The petrol S8 and W12 models offer supercar levels of performance, and not surprisingly attract the highest possible rating as a result – both are in group 50.
Unfortunately, according to our experts’ predictions, the A8 has poorer residual values than both the Mercedes S-Class and the Range Rover. Best not to think about depreciation, at least in the first few years of ownership; it will be eye-watering.
Interior, design and technology
The Audi A8 has always traded on its understated looks, but from a distance it can often be difficult to distinguish from smaller, less expensive models in the Audi range, as styling cues are shared with the rest of the line-up.
For many potential buyers this will be a positive, as it’s a car that doesn’t shout about its appearance. The A8 is handsome and well proportioned, although it won’t turn heads like the Mercedes S-Class or Range Rover, which have more standout styling details.
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On the inside, the A8 maintains Audi’s reputation for building some of the best interiors in the business. Top-quality materials are used throughout, with a logically laid-out dash, plus there’s a vast array of leathers, veneers and inlays to give the most opulent feel possible. Again, though, it doesn’t have the bespoke look of its two main rivals.
Even before buyers start adding options, the A8 has a suitably upmarket feel inside. Standard equipment includes 12-way electrically adjustable heated leather seats, sat-nav and four-zone climate control, as well as hi-tech features like a touchpad for the MMI cabin control system.
Also offered are MatrixBeam LED headlamps, available with a pedestrian detection system. Thermal imaging cameras identify people in the dark and strobe them with a separate beam while sounding a warning chime to the driver. On quieter roads, the lights can track up to eight cars to keep the main beam on at all times while masking out specific areas of light to avoid dazzling drivers travelling in the opposite direction. This not only improves safety, it looks great, too.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
As you’d expect, even the SE-spec A8 has a pretty comprehensive spec list. On the infotainment side that means a seven-inch colour screen on the dash, and Audi Music Interface that replicates your smartphone or iPod music display. You also get HDD sat-nav, DAB radio and Bluetooth.
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The standard audio system is a six-speaker, 190-Watt set-up, but if you upgrade to Sport trim – or beyond – you get 14 speakers and a 600-Watt Bose surround-sound set-up.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
While it’s more lavishly equipped than most, the front of the A8 offers a similar level of ergonomic excellence to the rest of the Audi range. That means loads of seat and steering wheel adjustment for the driver, although of course everything will be power-assisted – and the seats can even give you a massage.
There’s masses of space in the cabin, and lots of storage for bits and pieces, including an optional cool box. Folding tables are available in the rear; perfect for using a laptop on the move.
The absence of a folding rear bench limits the A8’s abilities as a versatile holdall. Still, the added security of four-wheel drive makes the Audi a strong choice if you plan to use it in snowy or wet weather on a regular basis. In fact, as Audi’s technology flagship, the car is absolutely weighed down with advanced electronic systems to help take the strain out of driving. This ranges from night vision cameras to predictive navigation that adjusts the car’s transmission, lights and cruise control to suit the next stretch of road.
On the road, the A8 can sometimes be deceptive as its looks are so similar to smaller models in the Audi range; only when you try to park do the dimensions become more obvious. At 5,135mm long, it’s bigger than most cars on the road: for example, the Range Rover measures 4,999mm, although the Mercedes S-Class is 10cm longer, at 5,346mm.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
It’s no surprise to find the A8 features an extremely spacious interior given its luxury car status – even the short-wheelbase model benefits from plenty of head and legroom. Opt for the long-wheelbase version, and passengers in the rear are afforded a further 130mm of space in which to stretch out.
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If your A8 is going to be chauffeur-driven, it’s well worth considering one of the optional rear seat packages. This turns the A8 into a strict four-seater, but the two individual rear chairs have 12-way electric adjustment, plus the front passenger seat can be remotely moved forward to provide even more legroom in the back.
There are ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the front passenger seat and in the rear.
Lifting the bootlid reveals a well shaped 520-litre luggage space in the W12. It drops to 490 litres for the two diesels and just 335 litres for the A8 Hybrid, due to the location of the battery pack.
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While not many limousines end up being used as tow cars, it’s worth knowing that most versions of the A8 can pull a 2,300kg braked trailer; the optional electrically retracting tow ball costs £825.
Reliability and Safety
In the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, Audi ranked 13th in the manufacturers’ chart, slipping one place on its 2014 result – and, crucially, finishing behind arch rival BMW. The company’s dealers came a disappointing 26th out of 31 official networks, too, which isn’t what you’d expect from a premium brand.
The A8 hasn’t been subject to Euro NCAP’s crash tests, but there’s little reason to doubt its safety credentials. It comes with six airbags, on top of a strong and rigid structure.
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Audi’s pre-sense system is included, too; this automatically tensions the seatbelts and closes the windows if it detects an imminent collision. Tyre pressure monitoring and electronic stability control are also standard, and of course the standard quattro four-wheel-drive system will keep the car out of trouble for longer when traction is in short supply.
As is the case across the Audi range, and with other upmarket cars, the A8 is available with a host of optional safety upgrades. These include lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and a night vision camera, which picks out pedestrians and animals in the road. When combined with the hi-tech LED Matrix headlights, which can project 250 metres ahead without dazzling oncoming traffic, the night vision kit helps the A8 inspire confidence behind the wheel after dark.
The Audi A8 warranty package includes two years’ cover with unlimited mileage, followed by a third year during which the mileage is capped at 60,000. This is only average for the sector, although you can extend the warranty to four years and 75,000 miles for just over £1,000 or five years and 90,000 miles for around £2,500.
Audi’s fixed-price servicing makes it easy to budget for maintenance. Buyers can pay around £350 to cover dealer servicing of A8 and S8 models for the first three years, although it’s not applicable to the more complex W12 version.